A twitter thread that unravelled.
Storystarters are cultural and evoke our
imaginations. What started as a simple
tweet has turned into a beautiful thread of
Read below the various responses (with
credits) from all parts of the world.
Read the disclaimer before you start…
I decided to collate all the threads into a resource for teachers and
This is not directly for children, as none of these texts have been
validated or the scripts translated.
We only have the tweeters confirming origins. There is no claim of
It is arranged by continents / regions. But the languages do travel and
hence will be spoken in other places.
Do not get in touch to make corrections! This is simply a joy of
storytelling that got translated into a resource. There is no joy in
criticism of the fun we had.
Tamil - India
Like “ once upon a time “ in English, in Tamil
we used to start stories with “in that only
place...” ஒரே ஒரு ஊரிரே
Chitra Soundar @csoundar
In Kawaada story form it goes – “And that’s
how the story unfolds.
Farmer Falgu @farmerfalgu
anagaa anagaa in Telugu translates to
'having been said and said and said', the
reduplication indicates repetitive action. in
fast speech the last vowel of the first word is
shortened and it become 'anaganagaa’
A. M. Dassu @a_reflective
In Kannada it is ಒಂದಾನ ಂದು ಕಾಲದಲ್ಲಿ
(ondaanondu kaaladalli), a long long time
ago/once upon a time.
In Gujarati it is often 'Ek huto...' 'Once there
Divya Ghelani @DivyaGhelani
In Bengali it is 'Shey onek din ager kotha ...'
which means 'once upon a time a long while
Muneera Mun @mun_artist
In the Philippines it is "Noong unang
panahon" ... I had never thought of it but
roughly translated it means "In the first of
Candy Gourlay @candygourlay
The Japanese equivalent is 'mukashi mukasi' -
which takes to 'in the past' or, when repeated
takes on a 'long long time ago'
Japanese: 昔むかーし、ある所に。。。 Long,
long ago, in a certain place...
Avery Udagawa @averyudagawa
Mio Debnam @dogini
So ein Durst @EasternSmooth
Sinhala, Sri Lanka
in Sinhala. එකමත් එක රටක, meaning 'In this
one particular place (country)...’
Nizrana F @NizRite
In Thai people certainly use กาลครั้งหนึ่ง (kan
khrang nueng) which translates as 'in one
period of time' (i.e. once upon a time),
Galla klung nung nan ma lawe (from
translations of western stories)
Elli Woollard @Elli_fant
Helen Moss @hmadventure
“Long ago, when all the tigers smoked long
We need to validate this with Korean
I have forgotten most of my Mongol, but one
thing I do remember is that Mongolian
stories should begin with Эрт урьдын цагт
Medieval Indonesia @siwaratrikalpa
In Mandarin Chinese it’s either “long ago” （
从前 in Chinese) or a specific time like “once
in Qin dynasty”.
in Mandarin it’s “从前从前” which translates
to something like “long, long ago”
Ruo Ling Lu @ruolinglu
In Indonesia, "pada zaman dahulu kala", in
an era a long time ago...
Eve Shi @Eve_Shi
in Bahasa Melayu we use "pada suatu hari"
("one day"), or for stories with
ancient/medieval settings, we use "pada
zaman dahulu" ("in a past era").
Afiq Asri @heyafiqasri
In swahili we start with "hapo zamani za
kale" which translates to "long time ago"
Stories about Anansi in the Ashanti
storytelling tradition always open, "We do
not say, we do not say that what we are
about to say is true. Let it go, let it go."
David Thomas Moore @dtmooreeditor
It's in a form of Call & Response in #Yoruba.
Storyteller speaks, listeners (typically children)
Ní ọjọ́ kan
[Ọjọ́ kan kìí tán l'áiyé]
Ní ìgbà kan (*Once upon a time)
[Ìgbà kan nlọ, ìgbà kan nbọ; aiyé duro títí láé]
The story proceeds from there on
Molara Wood @molarawood
In Kabyle, it looks like “Yella yiwen zich”,
meaning “there was a time long ago, there
was a man...” #storystarters
Calvus Virginicus @virginicus
In one of the official South African
languages IsiZulu, we have kwasuka
sukela, which would roughly translate right
in the beginning, so basically once upon a
“Era uma vez” - There was a time ...
Hannah J W @hannahteach
In Greek: "Μία φορά κι έναν καιρό" literally means
"once and at a time" very similar to the English one.
Similarly it's rarely used outside of fairytales.
I believe in Greek it's "mia fora ki enan kairo" which
means something like "one time and one place" but
is also sometimes translated as "once upon a time".
There was, once…
Dutch: "Er was eens" - Once there was...
"Heel lang geleden, in een land ver hier
vandaan" - A very long time ago, in a land far
Niki Haringsma @nikisketches
Suna Dasi @Suna_Dasi
Bulgarian stories usually start with "имало
едно време" (imalo edno vreme) which
literally translates to "there once was..." and
basically means "once upon a time, there
Dykestra’s Algorithm @orgouineateur
French & Italian
In French it’s « il était une fois »and in Italian « c’era
una volta » which I‘ve always thought of as ‘there
once was a time...’ but it’s the same as ‘once upon a
Cate Hamilton @lomo_linguist
'Il y était une fois' in French. There was a time, or
Once upon a time.
Tina Reynolds @tinamreynolds
There are a few forms in Basque. Here are
2. "Munduan anitz diren bezala bazen..."
"As there are many others in the world,
there was...". And my favourite "Landareak
eta animaliak mintzo ziren garaian,
baziren.." "At the time when plants and
animals could speak, there was...”
In Danish it’s: “Der var engang...” which
directly translated is: “There was once...” but
is often just translated as “Once upon a
Danish: at one time... Det var en gang...
H S Norup @HSNorup
Sidsel Pedersen @macthekat82
Maltese folktales often started with ‘This
might have happened and it might have
Saviour Pirotta @spirotta
In Finnish, a fairytale starts with: “Olipa
kerran...” (There was, once...)
Annlina Jokinen @AustinAni
Medieval Icelandic sagas tend to start "Maðr
hét...", "[There was] a man called...”
Luke Nokkur @Luke_J_Murphy
The German ones can vary but they also
often start with "Es war einmal" (once there
German is similar, "Es war einmal ..."
Julie Sullivan @Webwight
Rodger Kibble @rodgerkibble
Swedish uses "det var en gång" - which translates to something like "it
once was" or "there once was". Ex: "there once was [a person]"
Sometimes it's expanded to "det var en gång för länge sedan" - which
means "it/there once was, a long time ago", or "once, a long time ago".
In swedish: "Det var en gång..."
= "Once, there was..." The longer version is "Det var en gång, för länge
sedan, ..." = "There was once, long ago, ..."
"En gång" also means "a time" or "an event".
The phrase has a rhythmic feel in Swedish.
We can also simply say "En gång, (för länge sedan)..." = "Once, (long
Anna Landin @AnnaLandin
Sonja Bergstrom @sonjaarts
"Hol volt, hol nem volt, volt egyszer egy ..." –
Hungarian, the rough translation would be
something like "Now there was, now there
wasn't, there was once a ...", and looking at
the other comments it now feels really
similar to the Farsi یکیبودیکینبود
In Russian: «Жили-были...», means “Lived-
existed <lead characters>...”
«Once upon a time» translated to
Norwegian is «Det var en gang»
Camilla Reberg @crfotografi
In this sense (and this sense only), Serbian
storytelling is not much different from
English, the usual opener 'Beše (or Bijaše)
jednom...' can be translated as either 'There
was once' or 'Once upon a time’
Serbian Fairy Tales @SerbianFairy
In Welsh we have "Unwaith" (once/one
time/once upon a time) or we can use
"unwaith, unwaith" which lends more of a
fairytale air, or the simple "amser maith yn
ôl" (a long time ago)
Norman Charles @Cyntefin
In Irish we said Fadó, fadó...long, long ago
In Irish, words are sometimes emphasised
through repetition, so the usual Irish equivalent
is "Fadó fadó" (literally 'long ago long ago').
Mary Roche, @marygtroche
Jack Fennell @jfennellAuthor
In Czech, we usually start a fairytale with
the following: ‘Bylo nebylo. Za devatero
horami a devatero řekami… Byl jednou
jeden král...’ which quite literally means
‘There was something and there wasn’t.
Beyond nine mountains and nine
rivers...there lived a king...’
Katie Cox @coxy_katie
In Spanish 'érase una vez' o 'había una vez', similar to 'there
In Spanish we say Erasé una vez which is basically your “once
upon a time”
In spanish it's "Érase una vez" which literally means "There
was a time...".
Gabrielle Munoz @_gabmunoz
'Dawno, dawno temu' in Polish, meaning 'Long, long
In Polish it's "Beyond seven mountains, beyond seven
forests" or "A long time ago, beyond seven
In Polish, fairy-tales often start with the phrase “za
górami, za lasami” (literally: beyond mountains, beyond
forests) which is the equivalent of “in a land far away”.
Joanna Hardej @HardejJoanna
Anna Szydlik @CmaKsiazkowa
Anna Maria Tuckett @A_CherryWriter
There are many, but now a days, "Fa molts i molts anys..." or "Hi havia una
vegada..." are the most normal and common in Catalan.
The first would be "Many and many years ago" and the second "There was
"Vet aquí que en aquell temps que les bèsties parlaven i les persones callaven...",
That'd be like "See it here that in that time in which beasts spoke and people were
"Vet aquí que en aquell temps que els ocells tenien dents...", that translates as
"See it here, that on that time in which birds had teeth...
"Fa molts i molts anys, en un país molt llunyà...", That'd be "Many and many
years ago, in a far away country...”
"Un conte us explicaré, tan bé com jo sabré; si l'escolteu el sentireu, qui no el
sentirà no el sabrà...", "A tale I tell you, as well as I will know; if you listen to it
you'll hear it, they who won't hear it won't know it...”
vet aqui que una vegada
Even the Ancient Roman story-starter 'olim'
sounds like it is full of mystery!
Joanna Hardej @hardejJoanna
English - Lancashire
Lancashire folk often start a topic with 'I say,
I say' which comes from getting attention
over mill noise.
Kev Mcveigh @kevmcveigh
In the Caribbean (or my little part of it, at
least), #storystarters tend to have audience
participation. So the narrator will say in
Creole "E dit kwik?" (I say creek) and the
audience replies "kwak" (crack!).